New To Me – New To You – Paul Thomas Saunders

I’m going to start today by talking about a topic that may, at first appear somewhat unrelated to todays featured artist, but will, in the fullness of time (well hopefully) make more sense than almost any long winded intro I’ve ever written (that is it might make some sense…)

Last week, we trouped ourselves down to Shoreditch (all of 15 minutes on the bus away from my house) and following a delightful burrito headed to my favourite London venue. Village Underground is a wonderful thing, almost unique in London as a really good gig venue. The ceiling high, the exposed brick work beautiful, the oddly shaped area adding a touch of modern day intrigue, rather than looking like a converted, stuffy, Shakespearian Theatre. Like the city that it performs for, it is modern, unique and somewhat knowingly hip. The beer comes, not in pints, but in very over priced cans. No Carlsberg sponsorship here; there is Craft Czech lager & bottles of proper cider, not that Strongbow muck. Ok, so the lager is ludicrously expensive, and is still just a lager, no matter how crafted or Czech it is, but like the city it represents it is more important to be seen to be trying than to be actually any good. If it sounds like I’m being a tad disdainful , I’m not. I really rather like Village Underground!

Not only is it an excellent venue, they book good bands, really good bands! The Walkmen, Villagers, Lykke Li and last week San Fermin. Now we are onto another topic I really like, I really like San Fermin! The brainchild of, brilliantly named, contemporary composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone. On record they sound like Dirty Projects smashing face-first into Broken Social Scene. Live they are an eight strong, well choreographed, well oiled machine! They also look absolutely nothing like a band; they look more like a glee club. Eight members, compiled purely for their talents. There’s Alan Tate on vocals, a husky voiced crooner, equal parts Daniel Merriweather and Kurt Wagner, he is a real star in the making with a laid back stage presence contrasting the hyperactive band surrounding him. John Brandon is probably the most active trumpet player I’ve ever seen, he climbs speaker stacks, takes photos of the crowd, and along with saxophone player Stephen Chen, makes beelines to the front of the stage to perform choreographed brass solos; part musical brilliance, part dance routine. The rest of the band are exquisitely talented, the female vocalists provide stunning counterpoints to Tate’s baritone, even if I do find Charlene Kaye a touch too talent show in her stage persona, there’s no denying the girls got a stunning pair of lungs, matched only by violinist and chief harmoniser Rebekah Durham. The whole thing is held together by Michael Hanf’s stunning drums, and the quietly brilliant guitar work from Tyler McDiarmid, the only member of the band who doesn’t seem to want to be the front-person!

Throughout Leone conducts, he might not be waving a baton but this is his ship, and he is the captain…and it’s going to be a very successful, very fun ride!

And what’s this got to do with Paul Thomas Saunders, well guess who was supporting them….ok it is tenuous, I’m sorry.


Well Paul Thomas Saunders, obviously. As you’d expect he does the singing, and his share of the playing as well. For the stage show he is joined by Ali Thyne on drums, Kate Matthews on backing vocals and synthesisers, and apparently a guitarist, though they were missing from the show last week, and I therefore consider them MIA and don’t know who they are.

Synthesisers whirl in a faintly gothic 80’s fashion, guitars buzz with the same wide angle lense feel of the E-Street Band, and the lead vocal is pitched somewhere between Tom McRae and Bombay Bicycle Club. If music can sound big, this sounds very big indeed. If you want a scope of how hard it is to pigeonhole Mr Saunders, look no further than the list of bands he is compared to on the internet; Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, and that is just to get you started!

Largely he is seen as Leeds based (always lovely to feature anyone from Leeds!) He seems to play in France a lot for some reason, and was last spotted by my eyes in London (see above). However until other wise stated I’m going to assume he is still based in the general West Yorkshire area. Oh, and apparently he’s from Hove originally, this myriad of locations might go a long way to explaining his eclectic nature!

Having left the rather good but very un-google friendly named Flow, Paul released his first solo EP in 2010, entitled Four Songs In The Twilight. Followed by another EP Lilac & Wisteria in the summer of 2011 and then a surely unprecedented third EP, Descartes Highland, followed in April 2012 (who does he think he is? The Beta Band?) He even had time to fit in a fourth(!) EP Good Women before finally releasing an LP proper. Beautiful Desolation came out in March this year, on Atlantic Records.

Good god this lad can sing! Effortlessly dancing between notes, it is a rich, with a stunning range and a great deal of power as well. Frankly it is stunning, and every bit as strong live as it is on record. Musically, influences are tough to pin down, but there is the downbeat electronica of Radiohead; the ambitious arrangements of The War On Drugs, and lyrically the wry world view of a young Leonard Cohen.If this is making him sound like a jack of all trades, he is also a master of almost all of them, even when he wanders into prog territory on the outro of A Lunar Veteran’s Guide To Re-Entry, he seems to walk the potential pitfalls with an effortless grace. Some of the song titles too are fantastic, In High Heels Burn It Down or Wreckheads & The Female Form for example.

Why not?
If you’ve been a proper fan since way back in the day, you might be a bit miffed how many tracks on Beautiful Desolation have appeared elsewhere, a minor gripe, that is probably more aimed at his label than himself, and one that will not be a problem for most of you, who quite frankly should just go and buy this album immediately, or actually he is probably not going anywhere, so take your time!

Paul’s debut album Beautfiul Desolation is out now on Atlantic Records.

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